TOGETHER FOREVER

Lawrence and Julia were married for 62 beautiful years. During their time together they shared both the happiness and heartache of life. They celebrated moments of pure joy and profound sorrow. They created private memories for just the two of them while they publicly displayed their warm affection to the world. And because their relationship was built on trust and respect, their lives were bound together in a far deeper way than is common in today’s society.

This is the story of two ordinary people who found love in the most meaningful way.

 

They met when they worked together in a large department store in the Midwest. Lawrence started the job after being discharged from the military, and when he was introduced to Julia it was love at first sight. She, on the other hand, had just ended a relationship, and she was not interested in starting over with someone new. But over the next six months, they began to go out, and Julia soon realized that Lawrence was a gentle and caring man, and he began to think that she was the person he wanted to spend his life with. After another year of dating, Julia was hopelessly in love and when Lawrence asked her to marry him she did not hesitate to yes. In August of 1953, they became Mr. and Mrs. Curtis.

Everyone agreed they were the perfect couple. Each would finish the other’s sentences. They liked the same food, the same movies and they both loved to dance. Happily, they started building a future together that both of them hoped would include children. The subject had been discussed endlessly, and it was determined that a large family would be wonderful. On their first anniversary, the decision was made to try to conceive, and within a few months, their dream came true. Julia and Lawrence could not have been happier. It was agreed that if it was a boy he would be called William, and if it was a girl her name would be Lisa.

As the months went by, the anticipation grew more intense. William obsessed over Julia’s condition, and his constant fussing made her feel loved and protected. The pregnancy itself was uneventful, and early in the morning of May 24, 1955, Julia went into labor. At first, everything seemed fine, but as the hours dragged on, the situation began to deteriorate. The delivery was extremely difficult, and at the moment of birth, it was discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck causing him to suffer from severe oxygen deprivation.

Once Julia was back in her room it seemed to take forever for the nurse to bring their son to them, and when she finally did, she told them that the doctor would be in soon to talk to them about “the problem”. Julia and Lawrence were scared, but their attention was drawn to William. No matter what kind of news they were about to hear they couldn’t help falling in love with their precious little boy. In their eyes he was perfect. His tiny fingers and toes were adorable. He had lots of dark hair, and his little wrinkled face made them laugh. They had a darling child and now they knew they were truly a family.

A few minutes later the doctor walked in. Lawrence tried to read the expression on his face, but there was no emotion. Julia sensed that she was about to hear something that would change their lives, and she held her husband’s hand tightly. The doctor simply said, “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but your child has brain damage”. Lawrence flinched. He could hardly comprehend the words he was hearing. He turned to look at Julia who was staring at the doctor with a fierce look of determination. In almost a whisper she said, “I don’t care what you say, our son is beautiful.” The doctor looked at the chart in his hands and began to speak in a way that made it clear that he had given this response many times before. “Yes, he looks fine, but he was without oxygen for a significant amount of time and his brain has been compromised. I think the negative effects will be extensive.” He paused for a moment and then in a cold unfeeling voice he continued, “I do not anticipate him ever having anything close to a normal life. He probably won’t speak and he may never walk. He will certainly be a burden to both of you for however long he lives.” The doctor cleared his throat. “I would not try to raise him yourselves. There are institutions where he can be placed that are specially designed to help his kind. Of course, the choice is up to you, but in my professional opinion you would be better off putting your son with others who are like him so that you are free to enjoy your own lives.”

The rage that began to build inside of Lawrence made him tremble. He could not believe that a doctor was actually telling them to give up their son. How could they possibly enjoy their lives without their child? In a voice he was barely able to control he said, “Please leave.” The doctor shrugged, “It is your life, but don’t be guided by your emotions. Try to think logically because…” Lawrence angrily cut him off, “Get out now!” The doctor nodded and stepped into the hallway. For a moment the room was filled with stunned silence. Julia and Lawrence were both trying to absorb the shock of the doctor’s words.

As she struggled to contain her emotions, Julia looked at Lawrence and firmly said, “I am not giving up our baby.” But then a second later, a wave of desperation quickly swept over her, and she softly pleaded, “Please tell me you feel the same way.” Lawrence began to sense the crushing pressure that someone experiences when their world has been torn apart. “Of course I want to keep him with us, but what if the doctor is right? What if it is more than we can handle? What if there are other medical complications?” Lawrence hesitated, “What if – I’m not a good enough father?” Julia’s eyes filled with tears. “Lawrence, you are the kindest, most thoughtful, considerate man I’ve ever met. You will be an amazing father. I know we can raise our child if we do it together. We will just have to take each day as it comes. As long as we love each other we will find the strength to do what is needed to give William the best life he can possibly have.”

Placing their child in an institution was not something that Julia and Lawrence could even consider. In their minds, they had created a human life, and he was their responsibility. He was not going to be passed along for someone else to raise. He was not going to be considered a burden. He was not going to be hidden away and forgotten. Instead, he was going to be completely loved and appreciated as a person. He was going to be their son.

They never regretted their decision to raise William at home. Through the years they experienced all the highs and the lows of having a child with a disability, but no matter what challenges they faced, they had each other. They weathered every storm together. They savored the victories that occurred in William’s life and they held onto each other during the struggles. As he matured, William developed at his own pace. It took a while but he eventually became quite a talker with an opinion on everything. And he not only learned to walk he became active in Special Olympics. He brought a joy to their lives that would have been tragic to miss. He was funny, kind and filled with love. His gentle and forgiving nature was a perfect example of how to live.

Although he sometimes faced intolerance, disrespect, and bullying, William was able to change the opinions of people about disabilities just by being himself. They were often surprised to find that he was just like them. He enjoyed the same activities and had the same interests as anyone else. They discovered he had a terrific sense of humor and he loved to play practical jokes. He eventually received an education and held various jobs; however, he always chose to live with his parents. He had no desire to live independently. At home he knew he was loved, he was cared for and he was protected. The thought of not seeing his mom and dad each day made him feel bad.

The only regret William’s parents ever had was that they could not give him a brother or sister. Julia tried two more times, but both pregnancies ended in miscarriages. Each loss was anguishing for her, and she never truly got over them. Without ever telling anyone, she gave her two babies names, and she privately grieved on the date she lost each one for the rest of her life. Although they rarely spoke about it, Lawrence was aware of the pain that she carried with her, and it made him admire her strength and courage even more.

As the years went by, all considerations about the future, out of necessity, always centered on William. Every so often Julia would bring up the delicate subject of what would happen to their son when they could no longer care for him, but Lawrence always hated talking about it. It was just too painful to contemplate. Although he knew it was part of his responsibility as a parent to provide for his son after their deaths, he always put off making a decision. In his heart, Lawrence always hoped that he would die first so that way he would never have to live without Julia. He knew it was selfish, but he was convinced that it would be better for William to be with his mother. Lawrence knew that after he was gone she would do the right thing concerning their son.

When they looked back on their lives, Lawrence and Julia knew they had made the right decision for them and their son. If William had been institutionalized they would have missed so much joy. Every day had been a challenge, but each day also had its own rewards. Together they shared a closeness that few married couples experience. They had committed their lives to each other while making tremendous sacrifices so that their son could live the best life possible and have the opportunity to become the person they knew he could be. Julia and Lawrence found strength in each other, and their affection never wavered.

From the moment they fell in love they knew they wanted to grow old together – and so they did.

Each decade seemed to go by faster than the previous one and eventually signs of age began to arrive. Lawrence became quite forgetful and was continually losing his keys, wallet and assorted other items, but Julia was always able to retrieve each thing for him in the nick of time. She, on the other hand, began to have difficulties with her balance due to painful arthritis in her legs. She was often forced to rely on a walker to help with her mobility, however, she didn’t like to use it in public, and that was fine with Lawrence. He preferred that she take his arm so he could steady her. He still loved being close to her, and he wanted everyone to know they were together.

Even after all these years, he could scarcely believe that he had been blessed to find the perfect partner. He had often worried that one day Julia would come to her senses and see that she could do much better than him, but that day never came. Lawrence was the only person she ever wanted. They knew they were each fortunate to have found the love of their life.

In their retirement years, they were able to enjoy even more time together. They doted on each other and generally acted like high school sweethearts instead of a couple in their 80’s. Of course, time continued to take its inevitable toll, and they both lived through their share of health scares, but overall life was good, and from time to time Lawrence still delighted Julia by taking her in his arms and slowly dancing with her. For some magical reason, each time Lawrence held her, the near constant pain in her legs faded and for at least a brief time they felt young again.

But inevitably their lifelong journey together slowly began to fade into the twilight, and one afternoon the dancing stopped forever. Lawrence had gone to pick up William at the end of his work day. It made Julia nervous for her husband to be driving at his age, but he just didn’t feel comfortable when his son rode the bus. They parked in the garage, and William walked into the house first. His mother was sitting awkwardly on the couch in the living room staring blankly. Lawrence walked in behind him and saw Julia. He rushed to her asking, “Honey, what’s wrong?” but she didn’t answer. Her eyes did not focus on him – she didn’t seem to be aware of anything. Lawrence quickly called 911. While they waited for the ambulance he kept trying to interact with Julia, but he could not get her to speak or respond in any way. William was confused and frightened by his mother’s strange behavior, and he paced nervously while Lawrence comforted her. A short time later the EMTs arrived, and Julia was taken to the emergency room where she underwent a battery of tests. After waiting anxiously for hours, Lawrence was finally given the heart-wrenching news that his wife had suffered a massive stroke.

Completely devastated by the diagnosis, Lawrence struggled to come to grips with the unthinkable, but it was impossible to imagine his life without Julia. The despair that filled his heart was more painful than anything he had ever known. But he knew that no matter how overwhelmed he felt, it was crucial to try to be strong for William’s sake.

Over the next eight weeks, Julia struggled valiantly, but it soon became obvious that recovery was not going to be possible so the focus shifted to keeping her comfortable and giving her the best quality of life possible. During those two months, she moved back and forth between being lucid and then suddenly having her mind enveloped by darkness. Thankfully she regained some limited speech and during the periods when she was able to recognize those who loved her, she and Lawrence would reminisce. Although she spoke in a slow and halting voice, it was still the most beautiful sound in the world to her husband. On her good days, they laughed and cried as they revisited the moments that had defined their lives together. Each expressed their unending admiration for the other, and both made sure they conveyed the depth of their love and devotion. And in one of their final conversations, they made a decision about William’s future. Once Lawrence could no longer care for him, their son would move in with Julia’s youngest sister and her husband, both of whom adored William.

During her last 10 days, Julia began to grow weaker. Lawrence sensed the end was near, and he didn’t want to waste a single precious second they had left with each other. He remained by her side constantly, and she was at peace knowing he was there. But eventually one evening the darkness took Julia’s mind away for good. During the final 48 hours, William joined the vigil by her bedside. He and his father quietly stroked her hair and held her hand. At times it almost seemed like she knew they were with her, but they couldn’t be certain. Thankfully she was not in pain, and she seemed calm. Hour after hour went by as they lovingly kept watch over her, but finally, on a Monday afternoon, Julia’s breathing slowed dramatically. When the nurse came in to check her she told them it wouldn’t be long. It was almost more than William could stand to know that his mother was actually dying and that the family he had always known was about to become part of the past. His parents had always been inseparable, but now that was coming to an end. His father’s grief was especially painful to watch because the man he had admired all of his life now seemed lost.

William’s heart was breaking as he watched his mother fade away.

Julia had always showered him with unconditional love. She had continually fought for his right to be treated with dignity and respect. He had witnessed her courage over the years as she relentlessly took on the medical establishment, education systems and even elected officials who were insensitive to the needs of those intellectual and physical challenges. It didn’t seem real that such a dynamic woman could be lying there, completely vulnerable, and losing her hold on life.

When his aunt and uncle arrived, William kissed his mother on the cheek one last time and then they took him out of the room so that he wouldn’t witness the end.

Lawrence was left alone with Julia as his worst nightmare was coming true. She was leaving him, and he was powerless to do anything about it. As his despair began to turn into grief he gazed intently at her once delicate features now etched with deep creases and wrinkles. Her countenance was becoming pale and gaunt as death approached. But even under such heartbreaking conditions it still seemed to Lawrence that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. In his , yes her beauty encompassed far more than just her physical appearance. Everything about her had combined to create a natural loveliness that she radiated without effort. Her personality, her ability to refrain from judgment and her tendency to look for the good in people had made her stand out in a world that was often cynical and suspicious. Her willingness to make sacrifices for the ones she loved inspired those who witnessed her devotion. But above all, it was the kindness she had shared with every person she met that made her time in the world so meaningful.

Julia had led a courageous life. She had been a loving mother and a passionate advocate for her son, and she had been the perfect partner to Lawrence, the man she adored with all her heart. Throughout the years they had shared both the spectacular events and the quiet unseen moments that make up a lifetime. They discovered that love is not about physical attraction, it is about acceptance. They realized that respect is more important than always being right, and they learned that forgiveness creates an unbreakable bond that can stand the test of time. Their inspiring marriage had shown the world what love and commitment really mean.

As he gently kissed her on the forehead he remembered back to the moment when they met six decades before. It was a day that had changed his life, and now he knew that this day would do the same. He sadly wondered how the years had gotten away from them, and he wished with all his heart that he could hold her in his arms for one final dance, but he knew their time had run out. Lawrence had spent his entire adult life trying not to think about this moment, but now reality forced him to confront the inevitable. As tears slowly streamed down his weary face, Lawrence gently hugged his wife and whispered, “We will be together forever.”

He sat down next to Julia, slowly rocking back and forth with his eyes closed as he gently held her hand. Lawrence was so exhausted from grief that he felt numb and empty, but at the same time he also felt like he was the luckiest man in the world. He’d had the privilege of spending his life with the most incredible person he’d ever met, and although he was not completely sure why she had chosen to give him her heart, he had never stopped being thankful that she did. Surprisingly a feeling of peace began to settle over him as he was surrounded by a profound stillness that he had never experienced. For several minutes he quietly rocked and then he suddenly became aware of the coldness in Julia’s hand.

Opening his eyes, Lawrence looked into the face of the woman he had loved for more than 60 years and saw that she was gone.

 

 

Sadly, it seems that marriages of 50 and 60 years are becoming increasingly rare. While it is not always easy to spend your entire life with the same person, the memories you make and the experiences you share add a richness to your relationship that helps you overcome the difficult times. With the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it is always heartwarming to see older people who have chosen to remain together through the decades.

A few months ago I was at a restaurant and seated across from me was an elderly couple. They had to be helped to and from their table, but during the meal they sometimes held hands and shared food. They smiled and laughed frequently and simply enjoyed being together. The respect and affection they showed for each other was touching. It was obvious that although their bodies had physically deteriorated, their love remained unchanged. I couldn’t help but wonder what their lives had been like over the years. I’m sure they enjoyed many wonderful occasions and celebrations, but I imagine there were also dark moments that challenged the strength of their relationship. However, through it all, they had persevered. Their love had withstood the test of time.

Marriage is a form of companionship that is deeper and more meaningful than any other type of bond. Committing to one person is an act of faith, a belief that together you can survive all the disappointments and sorrows that life can throw at you. Our later years can be quite challenging, and it is a wonderful comfort to have a person who cares about you by your side.

Lawrence and Julia’s enduring marriage allowed them to share the warmth and joy that results from connecting with another human being completely, but how sad it is that so many of those who get married today will deny themselves the opportunity to ever know that kind of lifelong love.

 

 

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